* Will the House GOP be responsible? "Senate Republicans offered a new proposal Tuesday to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security this weekend, but it faced an uncertain future after Democrats demanded assurances that the House would support it."
* Syria: "Three missing London schoolgirls believed to have traveled to Turkey as part of an attempt to join ISIS forces have likely reached Syria, British police said Tuesday."
* He's right: "Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Russia has repeatedly lied to him about its activities in Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting national forces."
* And speaking of Kerry: "Secretary of State John Kerry defended Tuesday the Obama administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying the U.S. policy is to prevent the Iranians from getting atomic weapons."
* Greece: "Eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday approved Greece's plan meant to ease the hardships created by its international bailout, extending that loan program by four more months."
* The choice for the court is between success and chaos: "The Obamacare chief told Congress on Tuesday that the Obama administration has 'no plans' that would mitigate the damage of a potential Supreme Court decision invalidating health insurance subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange."
* Florida: "The federal civil rights investigation into the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin will wrap up with no charges filed, the Justice Department announced Tuesday."
Right about now, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) probably wishes his father kept a much lower profile.
Former Republican Rep. Ron Paul, the father of potential presidential candidate Rand Paul and a former presidential candidate himself, said the Congressional Black Caucus does not support war because they want that money for food stamps.
"I was always annoyed with it in Congress because we had an anti-war unofficial group, a few libertarian Republicans and generally the Black Caucus and others did not -- they are really against war because they want all of that money to go to food stamps for people here," Ron Paul told Lew Rockwell in early February during a discussion on sanctions.
I saw some paraphrases of this online, and I assumed the former congressman's comment couldn't have been quite as ridiculous as the tweets suggested. My assumption was wrong -- Paul really did argue Congressional Black Caucus members oppose war because they want money for food stamps.
As BuzzFeed report noted, Paul went on to complain that CBC members who were part of the unofficial "anti-war group" also disappointed him by supporting sanctions against countries like Iran. "They wanted to look tough," he said.
Obviously, the notion that Congressional Black Caucus members were only skeptical of wars because of food stamps is racially charged and ridiculous. It'd be an offensive comment from anyone, but the fact that it's coming from a longtime congressman and former presidential candidate only adds insult to injury.
And, of course, Ron Paul isn't just some random former lawmaker running around the country saying dumb things and appearing at fringe events. He's also Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) father.
President Obama repeatedly told Congress not to waste its time passing legislation on the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- if they did, he'd veto it. Lawmakers would be better off investing their energies in bills that could become law.
The Republican-led House and Senate, evidently eager to help the economy in Alberta, Canada, ignored the warnings and passed their proposal. This afternoon, the president kept his word, issuing the following message to lawmakers:
"I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the 'Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.' Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.
"The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto."
Republicans are, predictably, outraged by the outcome they knew all along would happen, calling the veto "political." It's not -- this has always been more of a policy fight than a political food fight.
But more important is the degree to which this veto very likely marks the beginning of a new era for Obama's presidency.
Just a few months into the Obama presidency, congressional Republicans and conservative media claimed to be outraged by a Department of Homeland Security document. DHS has released plenty of reports, but in this 2009 instance, the agency issued a general alert to law enforcement about ideological extremists and their interest in politically motivated violence.
The report had been commissioned by the Bush/Cheney administration, but Republicans freaked out anyway -- conservatives decided that concerns about violent radicals may implicate more mainstream activists on the right. Some GOP members of Congress even called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's resignation.
The Republican tantrum was bizarre, but it nevertheless convinced federal officials to scale back their scrutiny, at least for a while, of home-grown extremists and potentially violent fringe radicals.
A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.
Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to -- and in some cases greater than -- the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.
According to the CNN report, Homeland Security and the FBI have identified 24 violent "sovereign citizen-related attacks" in the United States over the last four years.
The reaction from conservative media figures wasn't quite what I expected.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* At an event last night, Gov. Scott Walker (R) told supporters that, "unlike some," he didn't "inherit fame and fortune" from his family. It's a message Republicans will likely be hearing more of in the coming months.
* Hugh Hewitt, a prominent far-right radio host, has been invited to ask questions at a September debate for Republican presidential candidates. This is in keeping with RNC plans to have party allies in the media play this role during the race for the 2016 nomination. The debate will be hosted by CNN.
* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) is apparently so excited about his budget address that his team put together an unintentionally funny teaser trailer to promote the upcoming speech (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won't officially announce his 2016 plans until April, but has begun "quietly telling donors" that he'll give up his Senate seat and seek the presidency.
* A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll was released yesterday and found Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) narrowly leading Scott Walker in the Republican presidential field among GOP voters in the Lone Star State, 20% to 19%. Jeb Bush and Ben Carson tied for third in the poll with 9% each. Multi-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry was fifth in his home state with 8%.
* In North Carolina, an Elon Poll released this morning found Hillary Clinton leading Jeb Bush in a hypothetical 2016 match-up, 46% to 40%. President Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, but Mitt Romney narrowly won it in 2012.
The Affordable Care Act seems complex to many in large part because it addresses several problems at once. "Obamacare" vastly expands consumer protections, improves efficiencies throughout the system, provides tax breaks to small businesses, reduces medical errors, and on and on.
But the principal point of the law has always been the same: bring health care coverage to those who don't have it. The United States has long been the only major democracy on the planet that allows its citizens to go without access to basic care, and the impetus for the ACA was a desire to stop leaving millions of Americans behind, one serious ailment away from financial ruin.
And even if we put aside all of the ACA's many other successes and breakthroughs, on this point alone the law is succeeding beautifully.
The share of Americans without health insurance dropped to its lowest level in seven years in 2014 as President Barack Obama's overhaul took full effect, according to an extensive survey released Tuesday.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the trend appears likely to continue this year, since 55 percent of those who remained uninsured told the pollster they plan to get coverage rather than face escalating tax penalties.
Of the nation's 50 states, how many have seen their uninsured rate go up? Zero. The Affordable Care Act has been implemented differently in different states, so improvements vary widely, but in literally every state, there's been real progress.
Just as important, the more a state cares to govern effectively, the better the results -- as the AP's report noted, of the 11 states with the biggest declines in their uninsured rates, 10 of them have embraced both Medicaid expansion and a state-based exchange marketplace.
From 2013 to 2014, Arkansas and Kentucky have seen stunning, double-digit drops in their statewide uninsured rate -- an improvement that hardly seemed possible. Indeed, Kentucky, which has been a national model for ACA implementation, has gone from an uninsured rate over 20% to one under 10%.
For the fifth consecutive year, proponents of voting rights find themselves on the defensive. New restrictions are under consideration in Nevada, Missouri, and Georgia. Voting restrictions were recently considered in Nebraska and Colorado, and while they were defeated, it stands to reason voting-rights opponents will be back.
It's against this backdrop that the Democratic officials are increasingly invested in a new idea: changing the U.S. Constitution to explicitly guarantee the right to vote. My colleague Zack Roth reported the other day on developments at the DNC's winter meeting.
At its winter meeting Saturday in Florida, the Democratic National Committee unanimously passed a resolution that supports "amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote." The DNC also said it would urge state parties to push for statewide referenda backing the idea, and pledged to create a "Right to Vote Task Force" to offer ideas on how to protect voting rights.
The resolution was submitted by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC, as well as Donna Brazile, a vice chair and prominent figure in the party.
To be sure, voting-rights advocates shouldn't get their hopes up, at least not anytime soon. Amending the Constitution is extremely difficult, and in a Republican-led Congress, it stands no chance whatsoever of advancing.
But steps like these are about starting a lengthy process and changing the nature of the public conversation -- which by some measures, is long overdue.
Colorado and the state of Washington broke new legal ground when they legalized use of marijuana, but they haven't had much company. Voters in the District of Columbia soon followed, though congressional Republicans, ignoring their own principles about local control, had other ideas.
Today, however, the very small pot club gets a third member. The Alaska Dispatch Newsreported this morning:
Feb. 24, 2015, is a historic day in the Last Frontier: Alaska becomes the third state in the U.S. in which recreational cannabis use is legalized. [...]
State and local governments are tasked with redefining the parameters of marijuana as it is brought out of the shadows and into well-lit, regulated territory. Much remains to be seen.
There was a period of transition and confusion in Colorado and Washington after state laws changed, and it's likely Alaska, which legalized pot by popular referenda, will have similar short-term issues. Broadly speaking, though, the bottom line is pretty straightforward: Alaskans who are 21 and over can legally "possess, transport and display up to 1 ounce of marijuana and accompanying accessories." They can also "possess, grow, process and transport up to six marijuana plants, three of which may be flowering."
There are restrictions on sales, quantities, driving under the influence, and partaking in public. Private businesses can, if they choose, still impose drug tests on employees and fire those who test positive.
A public-education campaign is already under way to "encourage responsible consumption" -- the tagline: "With great marijuana laws comes great responsibility" -- and in the coming months, the state intends to develop a state agency responsible for regulating commercial production and sales. Marijuana businesses, such as those in Colorado and Washington, will soon follow.
As for which state may be next, keep an eye on Vermont, where legislation is already pending. It's not likely to be voted on until next year, but the Green Mountain State, if it moves forward, would be the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process.
There's a very real possibility that Republican justices on the Supreme Court will gut the Affordable Care Act later this year. Every state without their own exchange marketplace -- in other words, every state where consumers have enrolled through healthcare.gov -- would suddenly have millions of families unable to afford their own insurance because of the Supreme Court.
There's no shortage of questions as to what would happen at that point, but chief among them is what states would do to help their own residents.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), for example, said last week that if the Supreme Court took benefits away from 500,000 of his constituents, "we'd have to look at" setting up a state marketplace to prevent hardship.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican, said the potential of an abrupt stop to the subsidies is Washington's doing. It's not his job to find a solution.
"This is a federal program, it's a federal problem," he said at the American Action Forum on Friday.
In a practical sense, the far-right governor -- who used to run a health care company -- is mistaken. Florida, if it wanted to, could have an exchange in which private insurers compete for Floridians' business. That's not up to Washington; it's up to Tallahassee.
What's more, let's also not forget that when it came to enrollments through "Obamacare" this year, Florida ranked #1 in the nation with a whopping 1.6 million enrollees, of which 90% received subsidized coverage through the ACA.
Rick Scott, confronted with the possibility of suffering constituents and a massive loss in revenue has a plan: do nothing. The governor fully intends to just sit back and watch while hundreds of thousands of Florida families lose access to basic medical care.
In early January, shortly after the terrorist violence in Paris, much of the political world wondered aloud whether Republicans would follow through on their threats to shut down parts of the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent an unmistakable signal: the public need not worry.
Referencing DHS, the Republican leader told reporters, "[A]t the end of the day we're going to fund the department, obviously."
That was seven weeks ago, and Republican intentions are far less "obvious" now. On the contrary, GOP lawmakers appear to have fallen into a trap they set for themselves, and are at odds with one another about how to climb out before Friday's deadline.
To his credit, McConnell doesn't want his party to shoot the hostage it took without forethought, and as of late yesterday, the Kentucky lawmaker signaled support for a new strategy.
The Kentucky Republican offered a standalone bill focused on the 2014 immigration actions alone after Democrats for the fourth time filibustered the House-passed DHS bill, this time on a 47-46 vote, 13 shy of the 60 needed to advance.
"It isn't tied to DHS funding. It removes their excuse," the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor.... Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed McConnell's latest maneuvering.
The basic outline of McConnell's remedy is pretty straightforward. Under the current Republican strategy, funding for Homeland Security is tied to a GOP plan to scrap President Obama's immigration policy. In effect, the party's ransom note reads, "Undo the White House's protections for immigrants or the Department of Homeland Security gets it."
McConnell's new tack intends to decouple the demands -- Congress would fund Homeland Security at the agreed upon levels, and then lawmakers would also vote on separate legislation going after the president's executive actions on immigration.
So, in this ridiculous game of chicken, McConnell blinked first? Yep, that's pretty much what happened last night.
When it comes to Republicans, anatomy, biology, and reproductive health, the last few years have not been kind. Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly been confused, for example, about the basics of birth control. Former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), during his failed Senate campaign, had a certain "shut that whole thing down" incident.
But as Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest GOP misstep is a doozy.
An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.
The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.
Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.
To appreciate the absurdity of the situation, watch the video below to hear the laughter in the committee room following the exchange.
Barbieri, who has a history of far-right views and activism, sits on the board of a so-called "crisis pregnancy center," which tries to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies. Presumably, the Republican state lawmaker should be a little more familiar with human anatomy, particularly in the area of reproductive health.
The unfortunate exchange occurred during a hearing on legislation intended to "ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine" -- a practice that does not currently exist in Idaho. The state committee approved the bill on a party-line vote in the Republican-dominated legislature, and it now heads to the state House floor.
Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for The Guardian, talks with Rachel Maddow about reports of torture at Guantanamo by a former police detective, and the new scrutiny being applied to the criminal confessions obtained by the detective in Chicago. watch
John Stanton, DC bureau chief for Buzzfeed, talks with Rachel Maddow about the failure by Congress to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which was more unbelievable than the Idaho lawmaker who thinks the stomach connects to the... watch
Rachel Maddow reports on an assessment by the Democratic National Committee of lessons the party should take from recent political losses, with an emphasis on increasing input on redistricting to counter the GOP's gerrymandered advantage. watch
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